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November 25, 2010

Week 13 preview in the ACC

MORE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

THE SCHEDULE
Virginia at Virginia Tech, noon
Boston College at Syracuse, noon
USF at Miami, noon
North Carolina at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
Florida at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.
N.C. State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Clemson, 7 p.m.
Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech at Georgia, 7:45 p.m.

It's the type of situation that can cause minds to wander.

While Florida State faces Florida on Saturday, its ACC championship hopes will rest on the results of another game taking place simultaneously hundreds of miles away. Florida State advances to the ACC championship game next week only if Maryland beats N.C. State.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is taking every step to make sure his players don't worry about what's going on in College Park. He has asked that updates of the Maryland-N.C. State game not appear on the Doak Campbell Stadium scoreboard or be mentioned by the public-address announcer.

The Seminoles can't afford a lack of focus. And, frankly, it's hard to imagine them getting distracted in this game. While this contest won't have any impact on their ACC title hopes, it means just as much as a conference championship. Heck, given the choice of an ACC title or a victory over Florida, more than a few Seminoles fans probably would prefer the latter.

"Fans tend to probably favor the [rivalry] because of what they have to live with every day," Fisher said. "You know what I mean? Florida and Florida State fans are so close and they work with them so much. Probably from a fan base, you'd probably say having success against Florida [is more important], but as a program, I think they're both critical."

Florida State (8-3, 6-2 ACC) lost control of its destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division race by suffering back-to-back losses to N.C. State and North Carolina, though the Seminoles have remained in contention by beating Clemson and Maryland the past two weeks. N.C. State (8-3, 5-2) can advance to next week's championship game against Virginia Tech (9-2, 7-0) by winning at Maryland this week, while a Maryland (7-4, 4-3) victory would send Florida State to Charlotte.

The Seminoles haven't won the ACC title since 2005. Then again, they haven't beaten Florida since 2004, two years before Urban Meyer arrived in Gainesville. Lately, the Seminoles haven't even been competitive in this rivalry. Florida has won the past three meetings by a combined 127-37.

This season represents Florida State's best chance to beat Meyer. FSU has the better record and the higher ranking. The Seminoles head into this game as a slight favorite, though Florida's recent history of success in this rivalry should give the Gators plenty of confidence.

"We have to establish ourselves, play consistent, not give up the big plays and be able to compete with them," Fisher said. "If you watch them, they're extremely talented. Their offense is coming back around. They're doing the things they used to do. The defense is 10th in the country, so they do a great job there."

While FSU still could land in the Orange Bowl even if it loses to Florida, Clemson and Georgia Tech are trying to salvage disappointing seasons by beating their in-state rivals in two other ACC-SEC in-state rivalries. Clemson (6-5, 4-4) is a three-point underdog at home against South Carolina, which must avoid looking ahead to next week's SEC championship game. Georgia Tech (6-5, 4-4) is a 12 -point underdog against Georgia, but a Tech victory would knock the Bulldogs out of bowl contention.

"We haven't talked about it, not as a team," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said of the prospect of keeping the Bulldogs home for the holidays. "The media has talked about it enough. I'm sure they're aware of it, but that's not a point that we talk about as a team at all. We're more concerned about trying to get us ready to play the best game that we can play. That's just kind of the way we approach it always, no matter who we're playing. We try to focus more on us than we do the other team."

The other ACC-SEC matchup this week doesn't involve a natural rivalry. Wake Forest (2-9, 1-8) will try to end its nine-game losing streak when it closes the season at Vanderbilt.

Best matchup: South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore vs. Clemson's run defense. South Carolina won its first SEC Eastern Division title largely because of Lattimore, who has rushed for 1,066 yards and a school-record 19 touchdowns as a true freshman. Lattimore already has delivered huge performances against some of South Carolina's fiercest rivals. He rushed for 182 yards against Georgia, 184 yards against Tennessee and 212 yards against Florida. Clemson hasn't allowed any of its past three opponents (N.C. State, Florida State and Wake Forest) to rush for 100 yards as a team. The Tigers have given up just 71.3 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry during that stretch.

Player on the spot: N.C. State QB Russell Wilson. Wilson has the Wolfpack one win away from an improbable Atlantic Division title and ACC championship game appearance in their home state. But they won't get to Charlotte unless they win at Maryland. Wilson threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 victory over Maryland last season, but he also was picked off three times. Wilson must take better care of the ball Saturday, but that could prove difficult. Maryland's defense has come a long way and the Terps rank ninth in the nation in turnover margin. If Wilson avoids mistakes, N.C. State ought to win this game. But if he turns it over a couple of times, Maryland could pull out a victory that sends Florida State to Charlotte instead.

Numbers game: History suggests we should expect a close game when N.C. State plays for the Atlantic Division title against Maryland. The all-time series between the two teams is tied 31-31-4. Nine of the past 10 games between these teams have been decided by 10 or fewer points, with Maryland's 37-0 shutout in 2007 serving as the lone exception. And four of the past 10 N.C. State-Maryland games have been decided by four or fewer points.

What they're saying

"You buy a ticket to a BC game and you get entertainment. Suppose you go to the game with a guy from Finland, or somewhere. He doesn't know a thing about football. You say, 'The idea is to get the guy with the ball. Watch No. 40.' " -- Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, to The Boston Globe about the tackling prowess of LB Luke Kuechly, who wears No. 40 for the Eagles

"If you asked me this time last year what we were going to be doing right now, I'd like to have said we were going to play for an ACC championship. But I don't know if I'd have actually believed it." - N.C. State LB Audie Cole, to The Associated Press

"Yeah, it has a different feel. It just seems like right now this is the first time since I've been here that people want to say that we're going to win." -- Florida State WR Bert Reed, to the Orlando Sentinel about being favored over Florida

"They were afraid to come to my side, so they challenged Ron over there, and Ron set the record." -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, joking to The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot about the school single-season interception record owned by Ron Davidson, who played alongside Beamer in the Virginia Tech secondary in the 1960s. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley has an NCAA-leading eight interceptions this season, which puts him one away from matching Davidson's 43-year-old school record

"This team is better than 7-5. This has been one of my favorite teams, and I want to see them win their last game." - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, to The (Baltimore) Sun. Maryland carries a 7-4 record into Saturday's game with N.C. State

"That's a long ways off. Next year is next year." -- Miami coach Randy Shannon, to The Miami Herald about whether the starting quarterback job was Jacory Harris' to lose heading into next season

Etc.: Boston College RB Montel Harris had arthroscopic surgery Monday for torn meniscus in his left knee. He will miss Saturday's game with Syracuse and could sit out the Eagles' bowl game. BC's Luke Kuechly and North Carolina's Bruce Carter have been named two of the five finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker. Boston College is the fifth team in ACC history to win at least four consecutive games after losing at least four in a row (the Eagles actually dropped five in a row) earlier in the season. The others are Wake Forest in 1967, Maryland in 1979, Clemson in 2004 and N.C. State in 2008. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers was named one of three finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive player. Bowers and Kuechly already had been selected among the five finalists for the Nagurski Trophy, a different award that also goes to the nation's top defensive performer. Bowers also is one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award that goes to the nation's best lineman. Clemson RB Andre Ellington's status for the South Carolina game remains uncertain. Ellington has rushed for a team-high 686 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing the Tigers' past three games with a foot injury. Duke LB Kelby Brown has a knee injury that will prevent him from playing against North Carolina. Brown set a Duke freshman record this season with four fumble recoveries. He leads the nation in fumble recoveries per game. Florida State G Rodney Hudson is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, given each year to the nation's best interior lineman. Georgia Tech RB Anthony Allen went over the 1,000-yard mark last week, making this the fifth consecutive season the Yellow Jackets have produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Maryland S Kenny Tate is the only player to rank among the ACC's top 10 in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles. Tate is first in forced fumbles, tied for sixth in tackles and tied for 10th in interceptions. Miami WR Leonard Hankerson caught his 12th touchdown pass of the season Saturday to break the school single-season record formerly held by Michael Irvin. Miami coach Randy Shannon hasn't named a starting quarterback for Saturday's game with USF. Jacory Harris (concussion) has returned to practice, but Shannon indicated Harris would start Saturday's game only if he's sharp and crisp in his workouts this week. Stephen Morris took all the snaps with the first-team offense at Tuesday's practice. North Carolina RB Anthony Elzy caught nine passes for 178 yards against N.C. State last week to set an ACC record for receiving yards by a running back in a single game. N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien will be chasing his 100th career win this week. O'Brien owns an all-time record of 99-69 in 14 seasons. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley leads all FBS players with eight interceptions, and he also ranks second in passes defended with 1.56 per game. Virginia Tech is one victory away from becoming the only school in the nation with at least 10 wins in each of the past seven seasons. Texas had won at least 10 games in each of the past nine seasons, but that streak has ended this season. Wake Forest has started three true freshmen this season: QB Tanner Price, CB Kevin Johnson and CB A.J. Marshall. This marks the first time Wake has started three true freshmen in a season since Jim Grobe took over the program in 2001.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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